"Welcome to the McCain Ranch"
It was a hot day! Mark called me out of the barn when he saw someone coming. It was a prison wagon. The driver stopped beside our house. One of the guards got down and walked over to me while the other one stayed on the wagon to guard the prisoner, Rudy Croft. The man greeted me friendly enough, but I felt uncomfortable with a prison wagon being on my property. I quickly asked the guard if there was something he wanted.
He said they had a long way to go with the prison wagon. “We have to go all the way to Yuma. See, we got a fella in there that’s coming up-“ He stopped as he looked at Mark. Then he put his hands to his neck and acted like he was choking – as if Mark wouldn’t understand that! I looked at Mark, rolling my eyes.
They had a prisoner – Rudy Croft, a real mean boy. “Well, you see we ain’t supposed to go near no towns with him, you see, and we kinda need some…supplies.” I told him we could sell him some of our supplies if it was food they wanted. “Yeah, well that ain’t it exactly. You see…this here heat…” It became pretty clear what he wanted. I saved him the trouble from going on.
“Mister, the town of North Fork’s about three miles down the road,” I warned him. “There’s a Marshal there named Micah Torrance. You’ve probably heard of him. Now, what do you think he’d say if I rode in there and told him that the prison wagon came through with a killer in it. Both the guards were drunk and asked me for whisky?”
“Now friend,” the guard laughed nervously. “You got us all wrong…” He tried to tell me the heat was the problem.
“Maybe the heat’ll dry you out!” I stated sternly. “Now, get back in that thing and get off my property! And if I were you, I’d stay sober the rest of my trip.” He waved at us several times while he ran back towards the wagon.
Mark and I got back to work.
The guards’ names were Taylor and Potter. Potter was driving, listening to Taylor complain about it being hot and there being no whisky. Taylor complained that Potter drank all the whisky while Potter blamed Taylor for not handling me correctly.
Croft laughed at their arguing. "What are you guys scared? Can't get a drink when you need one?" He gave an evil laugh. "You let me go...I'll get it for you!”. He just kept laughing.
"Shut up Croft!" Potter shouted. "You shut up! We'll hang us a few of those horse blankets over those windows then we'll see who needs a drink!”
"You ever been to North Fork Taylor?" Potter asked then.
"Well...I've been there. There ain't nobody there that would know you. We've got a long ways to go...sure would make it easier," said Potter.
"Yeah," said Taylor until he remembered the two of them were supposed to stay with the prisoner at all times.
"Well what can he do...he's all locked up," Potter argued. "Look...we'll camp in them trees over there. Come nightfall you take one of these horses...go on into town...get us a couple of bottles then come on back. If Croft here try anything, nothing’ I'd like better then to put a bullet in him...as sassy as he's been.”
"Well let's get to them trees!" They drove off laughing.
Taylor went into town, leaving Taylor alone with the prisoner. Croft started banging his plate against the bars on the wagon. "Potter! Come on...give me somethin'! I'm half starved.”
"There ain't none for you...what's left I gotta save for Taylor."
"You ain't feedin' me enough to keep me alive!" Croft complained. “My middles achin' all over."
"So you go aches, they’ll be gone in a few days. They don't waste no time down in Yuma on the likes of you!”
But Croft kept begging. "Potter...come on, huh? Just give me something I'm tellin' ya'...I'm hurtin'. I'm half starved."
Potter stood and walked up to Croft. He drew his gun. “You know somethin’, Croft? There ain’t no one out here except you and me. And you’re sure getting’ on my nerves!”
"I was just askin', that's all," said Croft.
"You wasn't askin'...you was beggin’. Rudy Croft, beggin' for beans...now ain't that a laugh!" Potter laughed.
Just then, Taylor rode up. He hadn’t had any trouble. “Nobody seen me – nobody asked no questions,” he declared as he sat down by the camp fire. “That North Fork, even the Marshal gone to bed…Just me an that bartender!” They laughed.
They both started drinking the whisky. Potter passed out. Taylor tried to wake him but couldn’t. Now he seemed to be all alone! Croft go an idea. With Potter passed out and Taylor drunk, he had a good chance to escape. He started yelling like he was in pain. Taylor looked toward the wagon. “What’s the matter with you, Croft?”
Croft’s yelling became louder. “Help me, I can’t stand it!” He yelled. Taylor got up and went to investigate what was wrong.
Taylor got to close to the wagon and Croft grabbed him in a choke hold from behind. He demanded Taylor to give him the key to the wagon, and Taylor did. Croft managed to get the lock off the door while still holding tight to Taylor. Then he slammed the door open, knocking Taylor to the ground. He jumped out of the wagon and started to run.
Taylor grabbed his gun and fired. He hit Croft. He fired two more times as Croft ran off. He quickly went and woke up Potter. They had a big problem!
They searched all night and well into the next day until they were too tired to search anymore. They couldn’t find him anywhere! Potter figured he was holed up somewhere. He figured the buzzards would get him eventually. “What are we gonna do?” Taylor asked.
“Oh no,” Potter answered. “What are you gonna do once we get to Yuma? What you gonna tell ‘em, letting him get away like you done?”
But if Taylor was going to go down, so was Potter. “Look, you was drunk to. Maybe they’d want to hear that!”
They had to find him – alive or dead. They couldn't go to Yuma with an empty wagon. They would be facing five years in Yuma Prison. “We gotta get him,” Potter stated. Then he stopped as an idea formed in his head. “Or someone to take his place.”
“What do you mean someone to take his place?” Taylor asked suddenly. “You loco?”
“You aiming to drive to Yuma with an empty wagon?” Potter asked. “We find somebody…mess him up some, who’s to know the difference? Croft, he ain’t never been to Yuma. Ain’t nobody there that knows him. So, who’s to say who we’re bring in?”
Taylor was catching on. He had someone in mind. "That big mouth Sodbuster yesterday. He's got yeller hair, about the same size as Croft. Like you say, if we mess him up some, who’s gonna know the difference? We can get back at the sod buster – threatening us like he done!”
Potter smiled. “You know something, Taylor. Sometimes you got real brains!” Potter declared. They both went running back to the prison wagon laughing. They thought they had come up with the perfect solution!
I was working on the wheels to the buckboard when they rode in. To say I was a little surprised to see that prison wagon back today would be lying. I was very surprised – and suspicious! They pulled up right next to my wagon. The other man – Potter – did the talking this time. He wondered where Mark was, figuring he was at school.
“Yeah,” I answered. “I thought you were on your way to Yuma.”
Potter climbed off the wagon, stating they got to thinking about what happened yesterday. “We figured we oughta stop back by and apologize. Now, we know we did the wrong thing, and…uh…we just don’t want you to get the wrong idea.” He smiled at me.
Taylor stated they did need some supplies – not whisky. “If you could help us out, we’d be mighty appreciative.”
I was still suspicious. “You’re supposed to carry enough supplies when you start out,” I argued. Potter told me Croft was a big eater and ate a lot more then they figure he’d eat. They just wanted a little flour and cornmeal. I just wanted to get rid of them! “Alright, let’s go get what you came for.”
I started for the house. Suddenly, Taylor called out to me, “Friend!” I turned to look at him. Potter came up and hit me from behind. I fell to the ground – out cold! Then they lifted me up and locked me in the prison wagon. As they locked it up, they laughed figuring that by the time they got to Yuma, they wouldn’t know who they had in there!
Croft had been hiding in my barn this whole time. He cracked open the door and peaked outside. He laughed, happy to see that I was taking his place.
When I came to, I was confused to find myself in the cage of the prison wagon. I could hear the two men washing up down at the creek. They were still drunk. They walked up to me when they realized I was awake. Potter walked up to the wagon and started unscrewing the top on his canteen. “Here, you want a drink?”
I reached my hand out to take the canteen, but he pushed my hand away. “Wait a minute!” He poured some water in his hand and it ran right through. “Oh, now looky there! That ol’ water just won’t stay put!” He teased me.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I asked them.
“We ain’t doing nothing,” Potter answered with an evil grin. “You’re doing us a favor!” Taylor agreed wholeheartedly with him. “Yeah, you see last night that…uh…that Croft, he done got away from us…uh, yeah he sure did. But we figure he didn’t get too far because he’s carrying a bullet in him…You know them…coyotes. Well, we figure they got him by now. Well, that don’t help us none. Taylor and me.”
“What’s that got to do with me?”
Taylor said they remembered how I treated them yesterday. “And you know what? We got to thinkin’ that you look kinda like that Croft…You know, yeller hair, big an’ all, so you’re doing us a favor.”
I was taking Croft’s place. I couldn’t believe what they were saying! "You're out of your mind! You'll never get away with it!" I said.
“Don’t you be telling us what we can do!” Potter demanded. “By the time we get to Yuma, you gonna be Croft, far as anybody’s concerned! Then we’ll probably have you believing it too!”
I couldn’t believe what was going on!
Mark came home from school that afternoon. “Pa, I’m home!” He called. But I didn’t answer. He noticed the barn door open, but didn’t see me anywhere. “Pa, where are ya'?” Suddenly, a man grabbed Mark by the front of the shirt. It scared Mark something awful. “Who are you?” He asked in a shaky voice.
“Never mind who I am, kid!” It was Croft.
“What are you doing here?” Mark asked then. “Where’s my Pa?”
“Your Pa ain’t around. He’s gone. He’s doing something – something for me, kid. He’s helping me out!” Croft kept his face only inches from Mark’s. “Now, won’t you be like your Pa? Just…help me out?”
Mark pulled away and shoved Croft up against the wall. Croft still had a hold of him, but he cried out in pain. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Mark stated. “My Pa doesn’t know you – if he did, I’d know you too.”
“Look, sonny, I ain’t got time to argue! Now, are you gonna help me out?”
Mark was scared as the man tightened his hand on Mark’s shirt, but he was brave at the same time. He said no. He didn’t know who he was. He asked the man how he got shot. “You wanta know everything don’t ya'?” His grip tightened on Mark. “Alirght…alright, Kid…I’ll leave you be – won’t bother you no more…Just…just get me a gun…There must be a gun around here somewhere! I’ll get me a horse out of the barn here. I’ll be long gone.”
Mark said no again. Again, the man demanded a gun. Mark broke loose from him and started running toward the house. Croft started after him, but collapsed face-down just outside the barn. Mark took a couple steps toward him, but wasn’t sure if he was dead or not. He ran to get Micah.
That night, we were stopped for the night. Taylor and Potter were eating supper around the campfire. “Hey, how about a drink of water?” I called.
Taylor stood and started to bring me a drink, but Potter stopped him. “What’d you say?” Potter asked.
“I asked for a drink of water,” I answered.
Potter smiled and stood up, whisky bottle in hand. He walked over to me. “You know how much water there is between here and Yuma?” he asked. “There ain’t none. None to speak of, that is. And what we got over there, why…why, it’s gotta last. Now, if your real thirsty, why…you can take a swallow of this here whisky.” He laughed at me, saying no one’s gonna know it wasn’t Rudy Croft they hung. “And you ain’t gonna be in no condition telling him they was wrong!” I told him he’s have to kill me first.
Micah and mark rode back out to the ranch. Mark showed Micah where he had left Crop. He hadn’t known what to do. “You did the right thing,” Micah assured him. Then he drew his gun and started into the barn.
Suddenly, Mark called out to Micah. They found Croft laying on the porch to the house. “He didn’t get very far,” Micah stated.
Micah started looking for some identification. “If…if he’s done something to Pa, how are we going to find out?” Micah wasn’t sure. They found his name strapped on him – Rudy Croft, Mark read. “Why, this is the man they had in that prison wagon yesterday! What did he mean…he said that…Pa was doing a favor for him!”
“I don’t know,” Micah answered. “But, come tomorrow we better find that wagon.” Micah and Mark had some work to do!
Meanwhile, Taylor and Potter were hanging out at the campfire. They had some left over beans so Taylor started to bring them to me, but Potter stopped him, stating I wouldn’t eat until he said – and then it would be just enough to keep me breathing. They had about a week of traveling left.
But Taylor’s conscience was working on him. “I don’t think we’re doing the right thing,” he commented. Potter laughed at him. “Now, supposing what he says is true. Supposing we get him to Yuma and they find out what we done? What happens?”
“You forgetting what they’ll do to us if we ride in with an empty wagon?” Potter asked.
Potter wanted a better idea. “I say we make a deal with him,” Taylor suggested. “Providing he keeps his mouth shut, we let him go and then we take what’s coming to us.” I leaned forward. I knew something was about to happen.
Potter spoke then. “You know, Taylor, you just gave me an idea. Well, he ain’t the only one that liable to have a loose lip about what’s happened out here.” Potter sat down his bottle and slowly drew his gun out. “Well, you’ve been sprouting chicken feathers the past few hours.” He cocked the gun. “And I’m getting worried about ya'.” Taylor laughed nervously, stating he wasn’t going to say anything. “Yeah. Yeah, you’ll keep your mouth shut, alright!” I stared in disbelief as Potter shot Taylor twice. Taylor fell over – dead!
“Potter, your out of your head!” I declared.
Potter stood and walked over to me. “You know, he just gave me an idea,” he commented. “Did you hear what he said?”
“I heard,” I answered accusingly.
“Yeah. Well, come to think of it, it might be a mistake hauling you into Yuma – at least alive, it would. Now let’s see…I’ll tell ‘em you escaped, which you did – you being Croft. And while you was doing that, why…you shot poor Taylor there. So naturally, I just had to shoot you. That way, I was just doing my duty and protecting my own life.” This guy was sick! He told me to get back so he could open the doors.
“Why not right here?” I asked. “Why go to all the trouble?”
“Why, you was escaping, remember?” He opened the doors, then ordered me to come out and not try anything. I stepped out of the wagon, but walked backwards so my front was to him. “Turn around,” he ordered. I wouldn’t do it. “I said turn around!”
“I was supposed to be escaping, remember?” I reminded him. “A man running away would have to be shot in the back, wouldn’t he?” I continued walking backwards. “You shoot me in the front, you’d have a hard time explaining it!” The whole time, I made my way over to the horses.
Suddenly, I slapped the horse. The horse started forward. I jumped on and over the horse, tackling Potter. We struggled and I knocked the gun out of his hand. Reaching out, I grabbed the gun and pointed it at him. “Get up and start walking,” I ordered.
I made him get in the prison wagon. I locked it up nice and tight – this was better! He was afraid, wondering what I was going to do. “You’re gonna have a long time figuring that out yourself, Potter,” I answered.
He started begging me as I hurried over to the campfire to get a long drink of water. Boy, was I thirsty!
It was morning when I started heading back towards North Fork. Mark and Micah saw me driving the prison wagon. “Pa!” Mark cried as he ran his horse down towards me. My boy sure was happy to see me alive! “Pa, where have you been? What are you doing with that wagon?” Mark asked.
“I’ll tell you all about it when we get back to the ranch, son,” I answered. I turned to Micah. “You had your coffee yet, Micah?”
His answer? "Now you don't think I'd miss my coffee just because you got yourself in a little trouble?"
I smiled. He wasn’t fooling anyone! I knew they hadn’t stopped at all since I was discovered missing! "No...of course not,” I answered as I started the prison wagon on down the road.
*A very good episode.....I think this should have been a two part-er with Taylor and Potter getting to Yuma with Lucas as Croft and then go from there for part 2 - what cha' think?
piddlin' stuff.....Richard Devon has appeared in seven episodes ― The Spiked Rifle as Austin Stark, the leader of the gang and the man who fooled Lucas into thinking Mark was kidnapped ― Blood Brother as Jethroe, the man in charge of the People's Committee who was looking for John Stoddard ― The Grasshopper as Walt Ryerson, the man in the handcuffs who Lucas applied a tourniquet to ― The Silent Knife as Ben Macowan, he was the guy who picked on big Mark ― Miss Milly as Jack Adams, he was the man Milly hired to be her bill collector ― The Most Amazing Man as Lovett, he was the gunslinger who forced Wade Randall into a gun fight. He was so brave until he saw what a good a shot Wade was (with Lucas' help) ― The Stand-In as Gus Potter, the prison guard that passed out when the two guards were drinkin'.
Dabbs Greer is one of your most well known character actors. He has been in the business for over five decades. He has appeared in The Rifleman eight times ― Outlaw's Inheritance as Marcus Trimble, the lawyer from Santa Fe ― Boomerang as Sam Elder, the elderly gentleman who was about to loose his ranch ― Panic as Brett, the towns trouble maker ― The Jailbird as Farley Weaver, the man just released from prison ― The Promoter as Jack Scully, the man who was taking bets on Reuben Miles ― The Wyoming Story (1 & 2) as Finny and The Stand-In as Taylor, one of the prison guards.
Charles Cooper played Will's older brother Hank Fulton in this episode of End of a Young Gun. He also appeared as Rudy Crofts in The Stand-In, he was the prisoner who escaped ― Matt Yordy in Honest Abe, he was the man who kept picking on Abe ― Larsen the bartender in I Take This Woman.
Bloopers - The Stand-In
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The Journey Back
around The McCain Ranch